The little more than 26,000 citizens in an eastern Arkansas town could soon see city police patrolling the streets with assault rifles and asking them to show identification and answer questions as to why they're out and about.
The martial law recommended by the mayor and police chief of Paragould, in response to recent property-related and violent crimes, has begun seeing some backlash from those believing it infringes upon their civil rights.
According to the Paragould Daily Press, Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall said in a town hall meeting last week that the initiative to battle street crime would begin in 2013:
"[Police are] going to be in SWAT gear and have AR-15s around their neck," Stovall said. "If you're out walking, we're going to stop you, ask why you're out walking, check for your ID."
Stovall said while some people may be offended by the actions of his department, they should not be.
"We're going to do it to everybody," he said. "Criminals don't like being talked to."
"They may not be doing anything but walking their dog," he said. "But they're going to have to prove it."
The Daily Press reported Stovall saying that the crime statistics in the city were high enough to justify such action by law enforcement. It noted that an attorney was not consulted by the mayor or police chief before the street crimes unit plan was proposed.
The Daily Press though did contact the city's attorney Allen Warmath who said the police will respond in the way proposed when they receive called-in complaints. The mayor said, backing off a little from the plan according to the Daily Press, that the city just wanted to make sure a law enforcement presence was felt in some areas. Warmath too told the Daily Press that the new unit would be less confrontational than was originally proposed.
"If they have a call that there's some problems in the area, they're at least going to talk to you," Warmath said, pointing out to the Daily Press too that no one will be arrested for not providing I.D. when asked. "Maybe that person walking their dog saw something. It gives them some information and some leads to find out what's going on."
Following the Daily Press' article, the police department issued a statement clarifying the proposed actions of the street crimes unit. Here's how they explain the unit working (Editor's note: emphasis added):
Once an area has been identified as a high crime neighborhood, the select group of officers will saturate the area in an attempt to curb the criminal behavior that is plaguing that particular neighborhood. Officers will accomplish this in a variety of different methods. Officers will be working to identify residents in the affected area so that we can better serve our affected neighborhoods. Most often, this identification process will be nothing more than making contact with a subject, handing them a business card, and asking if they live in the area and if there's anything we can do for them. During hours in which crime seems to be more prevalent (i.e. between the hours of 11pm and 5 am), our process will become more stringent. We will be asking for picture identification. We will be ascertaining where the subject lives and what they are doing in the area. We will be keeping a record of those we contact.
The statement goes on to say that the record will help them make sure they're not overlapping contact of the same people and to provide more details when criminal activity does occur.
"An example of where this will be helpful is if a crime (i.e. burglary, breaking or entering) is reported the next morning. We then have a list of "go-to" suspects to question regarding that incident or incidents," the statement read.
Some have also expressed concern over the officers carrying AR-15s. This, the police department said, is nothing new for some of their officers who already carry such a rifle. The statement also said that the weapon won't be carried by the street crimes officer at all times. Only when the officer is deployed to a high crime area where they might encounter many subjects will they have the AR-15 on hand.
Here's more of the department's response to citizens concerned about their rights:
Many citizens, through various media outlets, have expressed a concern about the police "violating rights" or "violating the Constitution". We have to abide by the same rules, regulations, and laws that our citizens do. We are not out to violate anyone's rights. Once we have an area that shows a high crime rate or a high call volume, it is our duty and obligation to find out why this is occurring and what we can do to prevent the trend from continuing. Therefore, identifying subjects in those problem areas help us to solve crimes, and hopefully to prevent future crimes.
More town hall meetings are being held in Paragould Tuesday and Thursday where residents can join in the discussion.
CBS News has more details on the popular AR-15 rifle:
Featured image via Shutterstock.com.
(H/T: Blaze reader)